A life’s meaning

Liv Ullmann directs the last chapter of the Bergman saga.

Mar 14, 2001 at 12:00 am

Ingmar Bergman’s shadow is at the heart of director Liv Ullmann’s Faithless, beating in the words of his screenplay which recapitulates the Swedish domestic dramas and comedies he has written and directed for the screen for more than 50 years.

An elderly film director named Bergman (Erland Josephson, Scenes from a Marriage) summons a character, Marianne, an actress, wife and mother (Lena Endre, Sunday’s Children) to answer a question he’s never asked. Her answer is her story.

Marianne is the third variation of a Bergman character who first lived on the screen in his divorce farce A Lesson in Love (1954) and later found a profoundly troubled reincarnation (as played by Liv Ullmann) in his domestic drama Scenes from a Marriage (1973). Like the Marianne before her, this one has what seems to be a perfect marriage: an efficient domestic partnership, a pleasing companionship. But unlike the previous Mariannes, it’s she, not her husband, who accepts the tempting offer of an extramarital affair which leads to catastrophe.

The blood of Bergman’s body of work flows in Faithless. Marianne’s last name is Vogler, linking her to the eponymous magician, Albert Vogler (Max von Sydow), and his cross-dressing wife of The Magician (1958) and Ullmann’s divorce-traumatized actress, Elisabeth Vogler, of Persona (1966). Marriane’s lover, a filmmaker named David (another common name in the Bergman canon) suffers from “retrospective jealousy” as did Erland Josephson’s Johan, Marianne’s adulterous husband in Scenes from a Marriage. Emotions erupt through the porcelain crust of years of denial. Nibbling resentments taste blood and devour.

Though the blood may be Bergman’s, the cinematic flesh is Ullmann’s and lacks the former’s power. Ullmann’s visual language is more explicit than Bergman’s. She wisely chooses not to ape his subtle yet singular style and avoids parodying it.

Faithless, like John Huston’s The Dead and Stanley Kubrick’s drama of infidelities, Eyes Wide Shut, seems to be the cinematic elegy of a great director. Having asked and answered his final question, having suffered the silence of God and wives, and finding the human condition existentially absurd, in the end a director named Bergman walks off into a pewter sunset toward the horizon and coming night.

Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Friday-Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.

See this week's Reckless Eyeballing for more on the films of Liv Ullmann.

E-mail James Keith La Croix at [email protected].